Addressing the special gift of physicians to alleviate pain and save lives, St. John Chrysostom would say that “they have an urgent responsibility to share their talents.” St. Basil, likewise acknowledging the gift, taught that “God’s grace is as evident in the healing power of medicine and its practitioners, as it is in miraculous cures.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa would tout the medical profession as “superior to others,” demonstrating the “highest Christian virtue of charity.” Given such lofty endorsements by the Greek fathers of the Orthodox Church, it should not surprise us that in the latter half of the fourth century and into the fifth, homes for the poor and aged, as well as hospitals, supported primarily by the Church, flourished in Byzantium. These philanthropic institutions thrived because the Church, imbued with the Spirit of Christ (Matthew 25), took seriously its role of relieving human suffering. To cure someone of a physical ailment was akin to saving them spiritually, as well.
Even today, treating someone medically can have a salvific meaning, especially in the fields of mission where physical needs frequently intersect with spiritual ones. In the remote village of Aguacate, where a medical clinic is being constructed next to the Annunciation Church, this convergence of body and soul is made abundantly clear on a daily basis. On our most recent visit to Guatemala, a petite nineteen year old mother carrying a swaddled nine month-old child on her back, and accompanied by her father and husband, sought the help of the church in treating her suffering child.
Deylin could not breast feed nor eat solid food because of three bulging tumors growing on her tiny tongue. Robert Kirschner, the project director for the clinic, carefully examined her to see if she were a candidate for life-saving surgery with the Pittsburgh-based Surgicorps team arriving in August. A photo of her condition was sent to one of the group’s surgeons for evaluation. Thankfully, her name was put on the list for surgery at the Hermano Pedro Mission Hospital in Antigua. The surgery for the removal of the tumors should only take about 45 minutes, with a full recovery expected. Something so simple, yet so profound, and a child’s life will be saved.
As an OCMC missionary priest of the Orthodox Church, I realize that the work of Christ is many faceted. I do not work alone. There are many others celebrating the Divine Liturgy with me in their own unique and God-given way. Among the first are the physicians, whose apostolic ministry, like that of the Holy Unmercenaries Kosmas and Damian, calls upon them to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons…” (Math. 10:8). It is our hope that the operation of the Andres Giron Sanatorium, connected to a vibrant church, will serve the needs of both body and soul, bringing many to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
You and I may not be gifted physicians, but we can be part of the healing team with our fervent prayers and financial support, thereby practicing the highest Christian virtue.
Help us supply the medical clinic with urgently needed medicines and equipment with a donation to our Paypal account on this blog. May God, through your generosity, bring healing of both body and soul to our long-suffering Mayan brethren.